Addressing Healthcare Access Gaps with Technology: 3 Areas To Focus Today

Jeff Gartland

By Jeff Gartland, CEO, Relatient.

As experts in the healthcare industry, we’re all acutely aware of how our health system falls short of consumer expectations. And the gaps in the industry aren’t new – health systems and medical providers have long spent a significant amount of time and resources addressing the barriers to patient access that cause people to fall behind in follow-up and preventative care.

For many patients, today’s healthcare experience is marked by several gaps: gaps in access, gaps in communication, and gaps in control. These disconnects are often coupled with weeks-long wait times for appointments, unnecessarily complicated payment processes, and care that seemingly operates in a silo, separated from other parts of the care experience.

This starkly contrasts with what most people (and health providers) desire in terms of care. People want their healthcare experiences to mirror their consumer ones marked by frictionless, 24/7 access, self-service, and on-demand support. They also want to feel in control of their care, evidenced by Salesforce data stating that 71% of healthcare consumers feel responsible for managing their health. However, only 23% of those respondents said they completely trust the healthcare industry has the technology to enable them to manage their own care—another gap.

While the U.S. healthcare system is a complex puzzle with many pieces, further overlayed onto a pandemic landscape, technology is one element that has the potential to effectively revolutionize care, expand access, and improve the entire patient journey. There are three core areas where healthcare providers should focus today to solve persistent gaps:

  1. Appointment Scheduling

One way to mitigate a care gap is to invest in smart scheduling solutions. Solutions that offer centralized scheduling that leverage a rules-based workflow help improve patient-to-provider matching by utilizing provider preferences, sequential scheduling, and automated waitlist management. In addition, offering a self-scheduling solution to patients provides them with greater accessibility, convenience, improved efficiency, and a better user experience for both provider staff and patients. By reducing barriers to appointment scheduling, you make it easier for people to make and keep appointments which boosts patient outcomes.

However, the benefits don’t stop at the patient experience. From a provider perspective, appointment scheduling is significantly tied to revenue and outcomes. By implementing self-scheduling solutions, you can cater to the rising consumerism behavior in healthcare and attract patients that are looking to schedule an appointment after business hours (40% of appointments), people who prefer online booking to phone booking (67% of patients), and people seeking a same-day or next-day appointment (26% of online appointments) which will lead to improved revenue and outcomes.

  1. Communication and Engagement

Innovative self-scheduling tools are a solid first step toward delivering the experience patients desire, but organizations should also consider other patient access capabilities to meet and retain patient demand, and improve staff efficiency and resource allocation. That’s where omnichannel communication solutions that optimize patient engagement and 2-way communication channels, such as secure chat, should come into play.

The pandemic expedited several important trends in the industry as demand for healthcare appointments increased and practices simultaneously faced staffing challenges nationwide. Perhaps most prominently, communication channels between patients and providers have started to look more like the way we interact everywhere else in our lives – moving away from one-way push notifications to more bi-directional conversations. Historically, outreach and engagement have been one-sided. The physician or clinic would issue text, email, or voice communications with reminders or other information to the patient. Without the ability to seamlessly request additional info or ask questions, this created larger gaps in patient communication.

Today, healthcare systems can use multi-channel patient messaging engines that power better engagement through one-to-one messaging, appointment reminders, recalls, no-show communications, surveys, patient balance messaging, and population messaging to bridge gaps in patient access and ensure people receive the care they need. In addition to boosting patient engagement, these types of automated communications help reduce the administrative burden of providers and allow them to allocate staff to higher impact roles.

These technology solutions are also a smart investment from a revenue standpoint, as 70% of patients say they would choose providers who send emails or text messages when it’s time for preventative or follow-up care. Ultimately, when patients are more engaged, they are more likely to book and keep their appointments, creating a win-win for patients and providers.

  1. Patient Intake

Lastly, technology can streamline the patient intake process and accelerate care delivery when deployed thoughtfully. From a new patient standpoint, the intake process is a key touchpoint where health systems make a first impression. If your system is riddled with missteps or delays, patients can feel lost in the mix, unprepared, and may move on to another care option altogether, fueling an increasing gap in care. These no-shows add up too – to the tune of $150 billion per year industry-wide.

Technology can step in at the registration step, digitizing and simplifying the pre-registration paperwork to optimize the process and enhance the overall experience. Rather than relying on clipboards, manual data entry, and physical kiosks, providers can configure digital forms to capture necessary information from patients before each appointment, collect upfront payments, and provide patients with the privacy and convenience of using their own mobile device. This improvement in data capture can further lead to revenue cycle improvements, as up-to-date contact and insurance information are vital for a clean revenue cycle.

Banishing Gaps in the Future

The future of healthcare is rooted in the balance between consumer-focused and provider-friendly health tech innovations that fill the gap between current and future needs. Finding that balance is critical – without it, providers are left to deal with downstream, manual workflows and patients are subjected to poor consumer experiences. As an industry, we’re already in a new era of highly personalized, digital care that must meet the demands of modern patients and address historic healthcare gaps. As we continue to approach patient care and provider optimization through the lens of efficiency, personalization, and transparency, everyone will reap the benefit.

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